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Don’t Say “No” to Horseplay with Dad

It is a truth universally acknowledged that moms say "no" a lot. This is such a stereotype that there is a particularly memorable montage at the beginning of the movie Yes Day featuring Jennifer Garner as the mom saying "no" in rapid fire succession. I'm sure I'm not the only one for whom this hits a little close to home.

But one thing I won't say "no" to is when my kids want to horseplay with dad.

This is the stage of parenting that my husband has been dreaming of. While he was supportive and helpful when our kids were babies, that--particularly the endless breastfeeding--was largely my territory. But now that we're in that sweet stage of parenting, our kids are much more fun to interact with. And one of those fun ways is through horseplay with dad.

I've been told that I give off the impression that I'm a pretty laid-back mom. Generally speaking, I find that description pretty accurate. I think kids need to get hurt and take risks, learning life lessons along the way. My oldest daughter has only closed herself into the refrigerator once! (Don't worry, I was watching her the whole time and let her out as soon as she realized it wasn't as fun as she thought it would be.) However, my mama instincts do tend to kick in and the "no"s come out when I see them engaging in something dangerous...for them or for our house.

The trouble is, sometimes that dangerous activity has been instigated by their father.

Everyone is familiar with the classic example of a dad throwing their kid into the air. There is a reason there are far fewer pictures of moms doing this.

dad throwing their child in the air

For a lot of dads, this kind of behavior comes naturally...and it should. As though he needed to convince me, my husband was quick to show me articles on the importance of horseplay with dad (see, there are dad blogs, too!). According to this post from The Art of Manliness, the benefits of horseplay are numerous.

The following are just some of the positive outcomes we all want for our kids and our families:

  1. Resilience: In Memphis, we are all about grit. Horseplay helps develop grit in that it helps prepare kids for the unexpected and how to handle adversity. If your husband is as competitive as mine, there is no way he is going to let the kids win every time. If kids learn how to handle failure in a low-stakes way, then they will be better prepared when the stakes are higher. And they will also learn to keep trying because even that competitive dad will let himself get tackled eventually.
  2. Physical Activity: We all know the importance of being active; isn't it so much better to have kids getting some exercise in a fun way rather than vegging in front of the TV or a video game? Plus, Dad gets to model being strong and healthy. (Kids follow what we do more than what we say, so make sure you are also modeling this, mamas!)
  3. Father-Child Bonding: Believe it or not, but when your husband body slams your child on the bed, he is actually showing his affection. Great memories are made in these periods of roughhousing. My brothers and I still talk about the giant hole in the wall they made when they were practicing football moves with my dad (I don't think my mom's memories of that event are quite as fond, though).

When I asked my husband why it is important for him to engage in horseplay (after I convinced him it was not in fact a trick question), he said, first and foremost, that it's fun for him and the kids. The giggles and belly laughs are proof of this fact. He also said that horseplay teaches healthy boundaries and how to interact in a safe way. It is always play without an intent to hurt, so when a kid starts to cross that line, it becomes a teachable moment. And when a kid wants to end the game and says "stop," then Dad can model that stop means stop.

dad playing with their child

I recognize that I am very fortunate to have a husband who likes to interact with our children in this way. If this is not the case for you, for whatever reason, I strongly encourage you to seek out a male figure in your child's life--uncle, brother, friend, grandpa, mentor, etc.--to provide the horseplay that they need and crave.

If you are worried that your children will get hurt or all riled up...well, both of those things will probably happen at some point. (Seriously, dads, why does roughhousing always occur right before bed?!?) Of course, I never want my children to get hurt. But I am realistic, and I've got to admit that when it happens not on my watch, those pesky feelings of mom guilt are non-existent, and I can focus on triage and caretaking. Even better, I can leave all that up to my husband to take care of.

If I can't watch what I know is an accident or injury waiting to happen, I can always just walk away. We all talk about needing a break, so why not be content to have Dad totally in charge while we do something else? Winning!

So, the next time your husband starts to wrestle with your kids, be excited about all the life skills they are gaining...and go into the other room to take some time for yourself. Don't say "no" to horseplay!

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